So, your child is going to preschool! As we head into September, we can’t help but notice the “back to school” paraphernalia in all the stores. We get caught up in buying the latest character backpack for our children and making sure they have all the “stuff” they need. But as the day gets closer ask yourself, “self, am I ready for my child to go to preschool?” Yes! If we want your child to be ready, then you need to be ready as well.
How do you know you are ready?
• Are you able to “let go" of your child? Do you need to have constant contact with your child? Children can feel if you aren’t sure about the new school experience and will feel anxious and unsure as well. You must be confident in your parenting skills and your child’s ability to move onto the next developmental steps required by preschool.
• Can you “trust” the teacher and other school staff with your child? If need be, speak to your child’s teacher about their schedule and routine, what will they be experiencing and what can you do to facilitate a successful entry into the preschool world. Ask if you can visit with your child ahead of the start date.
• Do you allow your child to participate in group experiences such as recreational and library activities without you hovering? Practice makes perfect! Let your child have play dates with trusted friends, get involved in a playgroup or recreational activity to let you both “practice being apart”.
• When you are feeling anxious or sad, do you have strategies to manage these feeling? As your child goes to pre-school, you need to be able to deal with the feelings surrounding that. Find something to do while they are in school such as a class, work, or volunteer opportunity. Connect with other mothers who are going through this as well or who have gone through it, so you can talk about the experiences of your child growing more independent. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or depressed and it impacts your daily functioning, then reach out to a professional.
If you are ready, then what skills does your child need to be “ready”?
There are many different opinions as to what “ready“ looks like. The majority of educators say they would like to see children who can speak their needs and feelings, get along with others, have the ability to take care of their physical needs (toileting, etc.) without help, and sit still (Meisel 1999)! Nowadays, the focus on being socially ready and emotionally ready weigh more than knowing “ABC’s”.
• Your child should have enough language to express what they think, feel, and need. Preschool is a time when language development explodes. To help this develop, ask your child questions that require more than a yes or no answer, for example instead of “do you want juice or milk,” ask, "what would you like to drink?" Or play a game of tell me without the word such as if I wanted milk, I would answer “I want white stuff that comes from cows!"
• Children have to be emotionally ready for preschool. Separation is often an issue for children who haven’t had the opportunity to practice the skill of being without their parent. Let your child go to a friend or family member’s house for longer periods of time. Children need to learn that you will come back.
• Emotional readiness for preschool also includes your child’s ability to hear “no, not now” without a meltdown. Again, this is a skill that can only be developed when practiced. Delayed gratification is an important life skill that they should start to learn well before preschool.
• Children need to be able to share adult attention. Preschool is often the first time a child is expected to be in a group as large as 18 children and have to share the adults (usually 2) with that large group! As you can probably imagine, the more independent your child is, the more successful they will be.
Remember the staff at your child’s school can help you with any bumps in the road. In fact, establishing a positive working relationship with your child’s classroom staff will definitely help throughout the year not just in the beginning. Just remember to let your child go!
Donna Morrison, Deputy Director for Early Childhood Programs
Reach her here.